Yavapai race track in Arizona.

Yavapai race track in Arizona.

Coady Photography

Yavapai Fighting to Protect Meet

A large increase in assessed property taxes threatens the scuttle this year's meet.

A week’s delay of Yavapai Downs’ scheduled May 28 opening is one of the options that the Arizona racetrack may request from the Arizona Racing Commission in order to help salvage its 2011 racing season. The meeting with the racing commission is scheduled for May 25.

The Prescott Valley, Ariz., racetrack, which is run by the nonprofit Yavapai Farm & Agriculture Association, is struggling financially, making it difficult to host the full 2011 race meeting. Mike Mullaney, who became the track’s general manager in January, confirmed that a change in the association’s property tax assessment and payments on a loan of more than $13 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are among the challenges facing the racetrack.

Last year the Yavapai County Assessor’s Office determined that Yavapai is a commercial rather than nonprofit, agricultural entity, Mullaney said. That sent annual property taxes soaring from about $30,000 to $349,000. The USDA loan stems from construction of the track 10 years ago and refinancing in 2009.

Even if the racetrack's nonprofit status is not changed, the track property could be reassessed on an income approach rather than a previous cost approach, according to the Prescott Valley Tribune. Many businesses have been reassessed this way since the economic downturn. If reassessed by income rather than the cost to build facilities, the value of the track property could fall from $20 million to around $8 million, the paper reported.

Mullaney said that he has also discovered “accounting irregularities” from years past that he and track personnel are trying to sort out.

About 750 horses are already on the grounds in preparation for the May 28 opening, and entries have been taken for the opening-day card. The track’s dates call for the meet to run through Sept. 6, spanning from the Memorial Day through Labor Day holiday weekends.

“We would hate to see them lose the Memorial Day weekend,” said Arizona Director of Racing Lonny Powell. However, Powell added that losing one week would be much preferable to losing the entire meeting. “We are cautiously optimistic about it.”

Bill Murphy, executive director of the Yavapai Farm & Agriculture Association, suggested that one solution would be to have the Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association run the 2011 Yavapai meeting, according to Mullaney.

Mullaney also wants to attract other equine events to the grounds year-round, such as horse shows and rodeos. Such events were held there in years past, but recently that business has fallen off.

“Many of the people I work with here have done some terrific things for the race meeting, and we want to make it work,” said Mullaney.